The covers band has an honourable place in pop music, dating back 50 years or more, but in the last decade or so a string of groups have taken the art of paying homage to well-known acts to a whole new level.
While the likes of The Bootleg Beatles and The Australian Pink Floyd Show can now fill arenas with their shows, another set of tribute bands will be spending this summer playing at Fake Festivals around the country.
The phenomenon is so popular that there are now ten of them in Yorkshire alone this year.
Fake Festivals are the brainchild of 43-year-old Jez Lee, who staged the first one in the Lincolnshire town of Haxey in 2007.
“At the time I ran a look-alike agency and a tribute band agency,” he says. “Back in the old days there used to be a carnival [in the town] but we don’t tend to do that these days, so I thought I’d tap into that market. Instead of doing old-fashioned cake stalls I thought I’d use the knowledge I had and put on tribute bands. Kids want to go to gigs. I thought I’d do my own variation of what I would like to do when I was young.”
The inaugural event proved such a success that Lee decided to “roll out” the format to seven events the following year. Between May to September this year there will be 30 Fake Festivals, each attracting 1,500 to 2,000 people. The price of a ticket for one event also entitles fans to free admission to the ‘Big Fake Festival’ at Thoresby Park in Newark from September 4-6.
“I franchised the model,” says Lee. “I have a blueprint. Every festival is identical, the only thing that changes is the location and the acts. We have our own lighting and stage and bar and we get people in different parts of the country to become licensees.”
In return for a fee to use the Fake Festivals company’s rig and staff, the licencees get to keep money from ticket sales.
To maintain a consistent “atmosphere and feel” throughout the festivals Lee works within tight rules. “I run a very close-knit family of focused professionals – the same crew, medical team, toilets, security – and there’s a roster of 20 bands. It’s quality controlled, the bands know what they are doing and there’s clinical, crisp running of each event so there’s minimal chance of anything going wrong. Some of the bands have done it for years and years and the sound engineers know what they like.” Each Fake Festival has three headline acts – this weekend at Brough in the East Riding it’ll be The Fillers, Kazabian and Blondied while at Knavesmire in York it’s Four Fighters, Antarctic Monkeys and New2. Supporting them at each event will be five up-and-coming local groups.
“They tend not to let you down,” says Lee. “It’s their moment of glory in front of their home town. It’s nice to put something back into the community.”
Iain Angus has been performing at Fake Festivals with his band Four Fighters since 2008. An experienced musician, who’d found himself “slightly jaded” with trying to earn a living in the music business after a decade playing original songs with the Bradford group Aurora, he initially started doing cover versions “for fun”. One of his favourite acts was the US rock group Foo Fighters.
“When they came along they knocked my socks off,” he says. “I never got into Nirvana at the time, I thought it was a load of noise, I was more into ‘hair rock’ and commercial rock. Foo Fighters bridged the gap, then I went back into the back catalogue and realised it was a phenomenal body of work.” He subsequently formed Four Fighters in 2003 and is now the licensee for Fake Festivals in Skipton and Roundhay Park, Leeds. “They’re going from strength to strength,” he says. “I’m making lots of work for myself.”
Considering that he’d never thought “in a million years” that he would be in a tribute band – “I was just playing along to Foo Fighters tracks to fill my time but then I put a band together within a few days and we were gigging within a few weeks” – Angus realises these events fill a perfect niche.
“People on limited budgets can’t afford to see their favourite band as much as they would like, so it’s filling a bit of a void. And we’re taking it to places like Otley and Skipton that would not necessarily have a big show like that in town.
“It really works on a small scale and for about £16 you get to see three big tribute bands and five original bands.”
Eddy Anderson, from Leeds, joined Hull-based Kasabian tribute band Kazabian three years ago. A former bass player with original bands, he’d also had experience in covers bands. Kazabian are much in demand – they’ve played more than 300 shows across Britain and Europe – and have even been endorsed by Tom Meighan and Serge Pizzorno of the real-life Kasabian.
“We did a festival in Hull a couple of years ago where the NME turned up and they asked Tom to say a few words,” says Anderson.
From the perspective of a jobbing musician, the Fake Festivals tour offers a great opportunity to live the dream a little. “When you’re in a band you want to perform to big crowds,” Anderson says. “The way the industry is, to be in an original band to have people paying to see you is quite difficult. We all did original bands as best we could, it’s hard to be successful. To now be able to perform to big crowds most weeks is amazing.”
The Fake Festivals tour runs from May 23 to the weekend of September 4-6, and includes events in Brough, York, Otley, Ossett, Leeds, Halifax, Hull, Harrogate, Skipton and Filey. For full details visit www.fakefestivals.co.uk